I had hoped (and planned) for a day like this and so I had purchased two tiny Rock Cornish Game hens to cook in front of the fire. I wanted to try string roasting again and this time get it right. (Previously I tried it at a public cooking demonstration and it didn't turn out. See this post here.)
What I wanted was a good fire that was putting out a lot of heat but also had some good embers. I also needed to plan where the string would be: The recommendation was to have it hanging from the mantel and to make it long, but my mantel wouldn't work for that.
My fireplace has a metal piece at the top of the opening, and that piece had a slotted hole in it. Its original purpose is unknown to me but it looked promising for string roasting. The only problem was that I knew the string would be short.
A long string is useful because you can get the meat to twirl, which twists the string first one way and then the other. Basically, it is like having the meat turn itself on a spit, with little work from the cook. But I knew I would make it work even with a short string.
When I started the fire, I took the birds out of the refrigerator so they could start coming to room temperature. I knew I needed to wait 60 to 90 minutes for the fire to mature enough for cooking.
With two birds to cook at the same time, I decided to hang one below the other, using chopsticks inserted in them to act as connectors. I know this description isn't very useful unless you already know what I'm doing; the pictures below will help.
I found an S-hook (made by my awesome blacksmith friends) and put it into the slot. Then I estimated the total length the two birds would need, along with a little distance between them. From there I estimated the longest distance from the top of the opening to the top of the first bird that I thought I could get away with, and cut a string four times that length.
It is important to have a pan below the birds to catch the drips and that figured into my estimation. I chose the shortest pan I could use close to the fire and put it into the fireplace with two cups of water in it.
The chopsticks were inserted into the birds (two per bird), the long string was tied into a loop, and two more loops were tied at a length that would separate the birds but not too far apart. I put in an effort to make those two loops the same length. I also got all the strings wet.
I coated each bird with melted butter and many dried breadcrumbs. No other seasoning was used.
Once the fire was ready, I put the loops on the chopsticks and hung the birds on the hook. Here is the set up:
The long loop had each end over a stick and went over the S-hook. The small loops connected the lower stick of the first bird with the upper stick of the second bird. In this picture one of the loops is too close to the end of the stick. Push the loops so they are snug up against the bird: This keeps the birds balanced and stops the risk of the whole thing coming apart while cooking.
It was easy to get them spinning but with the short string, they didn't stay spinning very long. The fire was hot and I didn't want to sit in front of it. So I sat off to the side and used a long handled fork to keep the birds spinning. Every few minutes I used the fork to push on a stick to twist the string. Then I let it go and watched it spin until it slowed down again. I thought this worked well.
It took about 45 minutes until my thermometer showed the meat was over 140 degrees F on both birds. They were a lovely golden brown so I decided to take them down. Unfortunately I lost control of them when unhooking the long loop and they fell down into the drip bowl. This didn't harm the birds but it did dump the liquid all over the floor of the fireplace. No drippings to try!
The birds rested on the kitchen counter while I quickly tidied the hearth. (The cats were very interested in what I had left there!)
|The red juices concerned me.|
The birds were attractive to serve; it was fun to tell my guest taster about the cooking process while we ate dinner. I served stuffing and a salad as side dishes.
The meat was tender, the breast was still moist, and the skin had some crisp and crackle to it.
The flavor was good! My guest taster wanted more salt but I didn't need it. We enjoyed it. I call it a success!
The only part that wasn't cooked enough -- there was still a lot of pink -- was where the thigh was pressed up against the rest of the body. It was easy to fix with a minute in the microwave oven. From this, I think I could have roasted the birds another 10 to 15 minutes without worrying about overcooking them.
I had thought about turning the birds while they were cooking to make sure the tops got as cooked as the bottoms, but with two tied together, I decided it was too risky. I didn't want to drop them. This was a good decision considering what happened when I took them off at the end. Fortunately, the birds were cooked well top to bottom. I think this worked because the fire was so big.